The news that Lance Berkman is out for the season stung less because Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter have staffed first base as well as a healthy Big Puma might have. Craig has picked up where he left off last year, raking at a .381 wOBA clip, and Carpenter has been the surprise of the season, sporting a .371 OBP in his rookie campaign.
Between the two of them, they have played 69% of the team’s innings at first base. But before Big Puma left the hole there, an even bigger figure departed it: Albert Pujols.
Most people who looked at Pujols’s recent history of wOBA (.449, .420, .385 from 2009-2011) figured that he was already in the decline years of his career and unlikely to return to his previous period of productivity. The Cardinals made that bet, but even John Mozeliak couldn’t have guessed that the Cardinals would already be winning in the first year of Pujols’s new $254 million, 10-year contract with the Angels.
Adjusting for playing time — Pujols has played first base in only about 82% of his games this season, and Craig and Carpenter have played other corner positions — the combined production of the Killer Cs gives Pujols a run for his, er, money:
|Craig and Carpenter||.374||139||2.9|
And of course for reference, let’s look at the salaries:
|Craig and Carpenter||2.9||$975,000|
We suppose the only downside is that Craig and Carpenter occupy two roster spots. Then again, they have a total combined WAR of 4.3 (to Pujols’s 3.6).
Pujols’s wins above replacement used to seem like a forbiddingly difficult task to fill. But as the Cardinals vie to return to the playoffs, they can safely say that they have at least been able to replace their former first baseman, which is as much a commentary on how potent Craig and Carpenter have been. It’s just that filling Albert’s shoes happened a lot sooner than most people expected.